Treatments and Modalities Used in Physical Therapy

Many patients who have gone through an accident, sports injury, or other physical disability due to other acute incidents or chronic diseases may be referred to a physical therapist from their health care physician. Physical therapy can help in a number of areas, and can help a patient to gain mobility and functional independence, as well as decrease pain. Some ailments have only a minor effect on a patient’s mobility, while others can severely inhibit a patient’s mobility and range of motion.

There are variety of ways in which a physical therapist will treat a patient, depending on the exact ailment, and the degree of pain that the patient is suffering. The goal when selecting a treatment method or modality is to reduce pain and inflammation, accelerate the healing process after an injury, strengthen the muscles, and increase range of motion. The following is a list of treatment methods and modalities used by a physical therapist to treat patients with a number of physical issues.

Exercise

Exercise is a very common and non-invasive method of treatment used in a physical therapy setting. Exercise can help to improve a patient’s strength, flexibility and range of motion, and can help a patient regain their functional and mobile independence. Exercise therapy can be classified as either passive or active.

Active exercise therapy involves movements that are done within the patient’s own power and ability. This includes leg raises, jumping on a trampoline, walking on a treadmill or performing lateral arm raises. All these examples are exercises performed with the patient using their own power to move.

Passive exercise therapy involves the physical therapist applying the stress on the patient’s muscles or joints, while the patient relaxes. An example of a passive exercise routine is one where a patient lies down, and the physical therapist lifts the straight leg in order to help elongate the hamstring muscle.

Exercise is almost always incorporated into a physical therapy program, and is usually involved in activities that the patient will be instructed to perform at home on their own, in addition to the clinical setting with a therapist.

Ultrasound

Many different musculoskeletal conditions, such as muscles strains and tendonitis, are treated with ultrasound by a physical therapist. This type of therapy involves the use of deep heat using an ultrasound machine and a wand that is gently pressed against the skin over the affected area. This wand is then moved in small circular motions over the injured spot in an effort to have ultrasound waves absorbed into the skin and muscles with the help of a small amount of gel.

Traction

Traction is particularly helpful for those who suffer from lower back pain and neck pain, especially after a car accident. This type of physical therapy helps to decrease this pain and increase the spine’s mobility by separating the joints and disc spaces in the lower back and/or neck, alleviating pressure on spinal nerves.

Lumbar traction involves the patient being strapped into a traction machine with a vest to support the ribs and a belt that wraps around the patient’s pelvic region. After the vest and belt are secured and stabilized, force is applied with a machine.

Cervical traction involves a harness being attached to the patient’s head, as well as a pulley system and small weight. As the patient sits or lies comfortably, the weight will provide some traction force, and alleviates pressure on the cervical area of the neck.

Electrical Stimulation and TENS

Electrical Stimulation and TENS is used by physical therapists to help alleviate pain at the injured site. TENS – or transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation – sends electrical signals to the injured muscle or tendons to help stimulate reaction and development. Electrical stimulation may also be used to contract the muscles to help them learn how to function efficiently after injury. This is referred to as “neuromuscular electrical stimulation” or NMES.

Light Therapy

This type of treatment is used by physical therapists to help accelerate the healing process at an injured site. Light therapy uses light at a specific wavelength, and involves the therapist holding a light emitting wand over the injured area. This treatment is painless, and only takes a few short minutes to administer.

Joint Mobilization

Joint mobilization involves a physical therapist applying passive pressure to a patient’s joints to help improve mobility and range of motion within the joints. Although joints move in a hinge motion many times, they also have gliding motion capabilities as well. The therapist will apply pressure to glide these joints in order to decrease pain and improve mobility.

Massage

This is quite a common physical therapy technique that involves the therapist applying pressure to the affected area to help decrease pain, reduce muscle tension and improve circulation.

Heat and/or Ice

These are common treatments used by physical therapists to help reduce pain and swelling, improve circulation and relax the muscles.

Hydrotherapy

Physical therapists will sometimes have their patients sit in a whirlpool to reap the benefits of hydrotherapy. The heat and motion of the water in the whirlpool can help to control inflammation, improve circulation, sooth wounds, relax muscles and improve range of motion.

Conclusion

Physical therapy involves the application of a variety of types of treatment and modalities to help effectively treat a patient. Depending on the type of injury or disease suffered, and the degree of pain and swelling, a physical therapist will choose the appropriate modality to use that will have the most helpful effect on the patient.

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